Blame the Babylonians, I say. We can trace New Year’s rituals and celebrations all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia and the Akitu festival, marked by the first new moon after the vernal equinox of each year. The Ancient Egyptians celebrated Wepet Renpet, a festival memorialized by feasting and religious rites that occurred after the heliacal rising of Sirius in the night’s sky. The Romans celebrated the new year by giving offerings and wishes to Janus, the god of beginnings, subsequently of endings and also of doors—as the doors to his east and west facing temple were closed only when Rome was at peace.[i]
I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution this year. I threw around some slippery ideas like getting back into photography and attempting to master the formidable lady pull-up[ii], but I never set anything to intention. In the past, I actually have been successful with a few resolutions. Last year was the year of the literary tome; I’ve also vowed to accomplish very specific things and succeeded, like attend a music festival before I grow too old, make it through a month cleanse and complete a half marathon. But I’ve also made ridiculous resolutions like drink more water—how does one even measure that, in boats? And certainly I too have fallen prey to the exercise trap; the one that gets abandoned a few weeks in, or after you can never again manage to step foot on another treadmill again—crowded out by the sweat of all the January newcomers and their sheer, lusty desire. You’ll come back in February. Measurability seems to make the most sense in terms of goals, but what about those common, beautiful human things that don’t always come so naturally.[iii]
Via Brain Pickings I read a beautiful list of Woody Guthrie’s 1942 resolutions and was struck by the simple humanity of them. Things that one should always do, but not otherwise resolve to, unless we continue to remind ourselves. I plan to get up at 6:30 everyday but there’s no possible way I can do it without an alarm, a parade and some light substance abuse. Guthrie’s list contains things as banal as “shave,” “take a bath” and “change socks”. But it also contains things as enigmatic and heartbreaking as “learn people better,” “don’t get lonesome,” “dream good” and “love everybody.” How simple these things sound—like the morning alarm bell that hastens us—but how great they are in actuality, and how often they oppose us.
In my failure to make a solid resolution this year I thought about the Roman god Janus and how he is often personified: two-faced—each head aligned to face the opposite direction, outwardly one body, but one face gazes back and the other looks forward. Often the faces are depicted differently, one is bearded and the other freshly faced; perhaps one is wise and old and the other is young and looking with angst toward the future. Or could it be the wise, elder man who is brave enough to stare right into the future’s east and the cowardly youth who beats back into the glow of the eternal west. Unlike the god of beginnings, we cannot look both forward and backward, that is the job of those to whom we entrust our faith, or our mythology.
I can’t shake the vision of this god of the neophyte, with his two watchful faces looking upon closed temple doors at the east and the west end of his temple—conveying a calm, undisturbed city. For a peace-loving Libra like myself, it’s a pleasant thought. But really, it’s stifling warm in here and we need some fresh air. Closed doors don’t lead anywhere new; just like opportunities not taken and questions never composed. The truth is that art, change, vision, leadership and revolution are only accomplished by those willing to open doors—and especially those doors that have been boarded over for years, vacant and stagnant, or already attempted many times before. But then, it’s fear again; that paralyzing vapor that sneaks up ghostlike behind the mislaid plan, or the wayfaring artist—consuming your vision and the aptness to see beyond yourself. There is doubt; there is the weighty fog of the unknown; there is the infinite ache of fear; but there are always doors.
So, I’ll wake up and fight. I wont fear a closed door, or what lies behind it. I’ll open the doors I come across—forcibly, and I’ll rest quietly with defeat, because trouble waits behind some doors, always; but to leave them closed in fear would be to miss the beautiful burden entirely.
[i] Information about Janus comes from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology (New York: Warner Books, Inc. 1942. Print). Read it like a novel, it’s a classic.
[ii] My husband resolved to do martinis and apocalyptic survival skills this year; we’ll be a great pair.
[iii] Cast my votes for common sense, boundless decency and proper freeway merging in 2015. Please do what you can and use the zipper effect.